Adsorption parameters and phase behaviour of non-ionic surfactants at liquid interfaces†
A reasonable adsorption model is one that allows all adsorption parameters (adsorption constant, hard-disc area α, attraction parameter β) of a surfactant at a liquid interface to be predicted accurately as a function of the molecular structure and medium conditions. However, the established adsorption models of van der Waals and Frumkin lead to inconsistencies, such as negative β at water|oil, α significantly larger than the crystallographic area of the molecule, and phase behaviour that contradicts the experimental observations. Several less popular models that are better suited for liquid interfaces are investigated. It is shown that the sticky disc model agrees with the observed adsorption behaviour of several homologous series of surfactants, both at water|air and water|oil interfaces. The area α is independent of the interface and agrees within 6% to what follows from collapse and crystallographic data. A model of the lateral attraction is proposed, from which it follows that β has a strongly non-linear dependence on the hydrocarbon chain length, the area of the head group and the temperature. Using the model of β, experimental data, and the law of corresponding states, the critical point of the adsorbed layer could be determined. Depending on the value of β, the adsorption behaviour of the surfactants at liquid interfaces can be classified into distinct categories: cohesive or non-cohesive, based on their Boyle points (where β = 2), and sub-critical or super-critical, based on their critical points (where β = 38.1).